When is an Image not an Image?

You talk'n to me…? Bob Gryttebn photo

You talk’n to me…? Bob Grytten photo

When is an image not really an image?

In this issue we will explore that question…

My first reaction would be to say, never. But perhaps the real question should be… When does an image not communicate.

We’ve learned that a photograph means communicating with light and I believe that light is a major factor in making an image.

Alfred Stieglitz “Wherever there is light, one can photograph.”

Wikipedia defines “images” this way…An image (from Latin: imago) is an artifact that depicts or records visual perception, for example a two-dimensional picture, that has a similar appearance to some subject – usually a physical object or a person, thus providing a depiction of it.

For our purpose; however, before we get too far afield right now, let’s stay with the communication part of the discussion. At the same time we will recognize that some images have less communication impact than others. They’re just as worthy. Some images merely describe a subject like a butterfly or dog or person – documenting what the subject looks like. For that we often rely on Technical Skills to make the image as sharp as possible, with as few distractions as possible, good exposure etc., — so there will be no question as to what the purpose of the image is.

Let’s move to the next level; however, to explore a photo as a way to illustrate an event or story — communicate, if you will.

I solicited a random subject and Lens Lugger Beverly Slone sent in an image she took of two people and a dog. It is an excellent example of technique – sharp image, good depth of field, and effective exposure.


What can we do to guide us in the making of an image? Bryan Peterson, in his book Learning to See Creatively discusses Design, Color and Composition of Images, and I think now were beginning to approach what makes that WOW image? — the visual show stopper.

He discusses shape, form, texture, pattern, lines, and color. I think the more images we make, the better we become – but in steps.

First, we become familiar with our camera, then we begin to see things once the equipment becomes more automatic. Next, we begin to see a little differently. Then once we understand the elements of design we begin to incorporate them in our images — and all of a sudden our work magically improves. One instructor called it “practiced intuition.”

The Human Mind Seeks Order

Knowing that the mind seeks order helps us design or make effective images out of chaos. The strongest images seem to incorporate design elements. Our example above incorporates a bunch of them. Color – red and green are complimentary colors (go well together). The eye goes to the lightest color first – that would be the dog. The dog’s leash, while it isn’t strong visually  (the mind fills that in – because of the way the person sitting has his arms) and the other person is looking down which actually draws our eyes toward the dog.

However, while I liked the image, I felt there was a lot going on; but, it couldn’t be avoided. It was there. Then I employed a technique I use to help define elements where a lot of different colors exist. Convert to B&W.  This is what resulted…

Street Scene by Beverly slone

Street Scene by Beverly Slone

Suddenly order came to the image within the shades of grey and white. The doggie really popped out, and the arms of both persons seemed to point toward the dog. Three images also appeared – the dog, and the two heads – each contributing to the story. Isn’t this computer stuff great!!

Stepping out of the box…

Beverly also sent along three other images that are effective. Normally, Beverly shoots nature; however, she was interested in “branching out a bit,” she said. Nature is a great place to develop skills. Applying them to anything can be a automatic transition.

Think non distracting background. And getting closer

Alley Art by Baverly Slone

Alley Art by Baverly Slone

This is the first image Beverly sent…

Notice how much order there is in this image. Probably the first thing is the fire escape on the diagonal. It helps to hold the viewers eye in the frame.

The three trash cans are also repetitive  and the stairs give the viewer a idea about walking through the door, even including the hint of a hand rail.

No caption is required – the elements in the scene are suggestive. And of course once the viewer can’t escape out of the scene, the treat is the stuff written on the wall. A+

Iron on Wall by Beverly Slone

Iron on Wall by Beverly Slone

The next example is simple and all eye candy. The effective graphic here is repetion. It could have been any element – a subject itself does not make an effect image.

Tan Man by Beverly Slone

Tan Man by Beverly Slone

Our third and final image speaks for itself. Clean background, subject, symbol, involvement. All the elements of a first rate Photo Illustration.

Also notice – the photographer placed the eyes in the rule of thirds upper right quadrant, as well as the hand in the lower left quadrant.

Something to think about  next time we have a person to photograph.

No caption required. all visual communication.

Thank you, Beverly.

PS. To develop the eye to recognize images that will work, one simply has to look at a lot of effective images. Consider looking at the works of Master Painters. Let the information flow in. At some point that buildup of knowledge comes out. At some point knowing what ones sees becomes automatic. Called practiced intuition.

About lensluggers

Nature photographers in Great Smoky Natl Park area, Lens Luggers enjoying travel and photography. Shoot'n fool who have a good time and like to share what they do. Go to www.lensluggerworld.com
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3 Responses to When is an Image not an Image?

  1. Bob, the link below is to a highly interesting article entitled “When is an Image Not an Image?” It was written by Joseph C. Pitt at Virginia Tech in 2005.

    He addresses the question from the nano world of electron microscopic scanning…but you will immediately see its relevance to today’s DSLR world. Enjoy!

    LINK: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v8n3/pitt.html


  2. bobgrytten says:

    Many thanks, Dr, Ellen. — Bob

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